A Crumbling Piece of History in Bridgeport, Connecticut

WHENEVER a heavy storm rips through this coastal city, Mary Witkowski, a local historian, immediately has the same worrisome thought: “Are they still standing?”

So far, she has been both amazed and relieved to find that the two rickety structures known as the Freeman houses have indeed survived on their adjacent 161-year-old foundations.

Thought to be the state’s oldest remaining houses built by African-Americans, the boarded-up homes are the only remnants of a south-end community of free blacks and runaway slaves who thrived here before the Civil War.

Lately, Ms. Witkowski, head of historical collections at the Bridgeport Public Library, has also begun to wonder whether the houses can outlast a tax dispute that has kept them in a legal limbo for more than two years.

The city foreclosed on the historic houses in May 2007 for unpaid property taxes. Their owner, ABCD Inc., a social service agency for the poor, does not have the funds to pay the full amount owed, but has fought to keep the city from gaining title

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